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HOUSEHOLDER: Look ahead, and look back, at Williams Grove National Open

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
717-505-5403/@ydsports
Brent Marks
  • The 58th running of the Williams Grove National Open is this weekend.
  • Saturday's 40-lap feature event will pay $75,000 to the winner.
  • The National Open is the highest-paying 410 sprint race in the nation this year.
  • The event is sponsored by Champion Racing Oil and sanctioned by the World of Outlaws.

It's time for the big one.

This weekend, Williams Grove Speedway will close out its 2020 racing season with the 58th running of the Champion Racing Oil National Open.

For many years, the National Open at the Cumberland County track has been the biggest sprint race on the East Coast. This year, it will be the highest-paying 410 sprint race in the world.

Several big sprint events have been canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Those cancellations, combined with a bump in the National Open purse, helped pave the way for the Grove race to claim the title as the best-paying sprint race in the world for 2020. Saturday’s 40-lap feature event, sanctioned by the World of Outlaws, will pay $75,000 to the winner. That’s up $10,000 from last year, when Brent Marks earned the victory.

DIRT-TRACK RACING: Dillsburg's Anthony Macri drives to biggest victory of racing career

Friday’s preliminary race will offer $10,000 to its winner.

Famous name won first National Open: The first National Open was held in 1963 before sprint cars were a weekly attraction in this area.

True to its name, the first National Open attracted notice from across the nation, and a number of outside racers ventured into the area to race their modified cut-down racers against the top local talent in a 100-lap race.

One of those invaders took home the top dollars that day, and etched his name into the record books as the first winner of the National Open. He hailed from Hastings, Michigan, and his cut-down modified car sported a great big wing on top. It was something this area hadn’t really seen before on any kind of a regular basis.

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That man’s name was Gordon Johncock, and he would go on to win two Indianapolis 500 titles.

Other early winners: By the following year, many of the outside invaders were racing sprint cars that were altered just enough to meet the rules for the local modifieds. 

Another driver who would go on to fame with the United States Auto Club, although in its sprint class, won the 1964 contest. His name was Larry Dickson.

Thus it went for two more years, when western Pennsylvania or Ohio drivers would win the event. First Henry Jacoby won in 1965, and then Lou Blaney won in 1966.

In 1967, a racer from the local circuit would finally win the National Open, but even he had roots outside the area. Bobbie Adamson was the 1967 Williams Grove track champion, but he honed his racing skills near his native Pittsburgh before venturing east to relocate in Wrightsville. Adamson would also become the first two-time winner of the event with a second victory in 1968.

Controversy in 1969: In 1969, the National Open race distance was extended to 150 laps and the race ended in controversy. 

Gene Varner went into the history books as the winner that year, but many felt differently. Varner led most of the race in a team car to legendary driver Mitch Smith, but in the closing stages of the race, Manchester’s Ed Zirkle drove by Varner and into what most thought was the lead. Problem was, Zirkle had pitted at one time, and although he never even stopped, the scorers did not count the lap he drove through the pit area, thus claiming in the end that he was one lap down to the leaders until he passed Varner.

Johnny Grum would win in 1970 in the first of two victories for car owner Harry Fletcher. Then Kenny Weld won three in a row, before Steve Smith won the first of his three National Opens in 1974. Bobby Allen topped his former Florida neighbor in 1975, but Smith was right back in 1976. Van May won the last 150-lap Open in 1977, with Kramer Williamson and Dover’s Smokey Snellbaker winning 100-lap contests the next two years.

The 1980s: The race distance dropped to 40 laps when Allen Klinger won it in 1980. Smith was back for win No. 3 in 1981, this time driving for Fletcher.  

Lynn Paxton then won two in a row when the distance increased to 75 laps. Paxton actually led every lap of both races, and ended his driving career in victory lane after the 1983 race. Doug Wolfgang then won three in a row while driving for local car owner Bob Weikert, who had fielded the cars for the last two of Weld’s wins.

Joey Allen joined brother Bobby as a National Open winner with a 1987 victory, before Kenny Jacobs put Weikert back in victory lane for the sixth time in 1988.

Stevie Smith became the first second-generation winner of the Open in 1989, and Steve Kinser won the last 75-lap Open in 1990. Stevie Smith won the first 50-lap Open in 1991, and Kinser returned to victory lane in 1992.

Going to 40 laps: The race went to its now regular distance of 40 laps in 1993, and Donnie Kreitz Jr. was the winner. The decade of the '90s wrapped up with Steve Kinser, Mark Kinser, Lance Dewease, Sammy Swindell, Bily Pauch and again Mark Kinser as winners of the Open.

Donny Schatz got the first of his record five Open wins in 2000, followed by two in a row for Dewease. Steve Kinser won in 2003 before Schatz got wins again in '04 and '05. Doug Esh won in 2006, before Schatz was again in victory lane in 2007.

York County drivers triumph: York County drivers Cody Darrah (Red Lion) and Greg Hodnett (Thomasville) picked up the next two, with Sammy Swindell getting his second in 2010.

Jason Meyers won in 2011, with Schatz again getting the win in 2012. Fred Rahmer brought down the house with his only National Open win in 2013, just weeks after announcing he would retire at season’s end.

Over the rest of the decade, David Gravel would win in 2014 and 2017. Stevie Smith drove Rahmer’s car to the 2015 win, while Danny Dietrich won in 2016. Dewease got his fourth National Open win in 2018 while driving for Kreitz, and last year Marks scored the $65,000 win.

Thunder on the Farm: Trailway Speedway in Adams County is the only other local track in action this weekend, with Thunder on the Farm. 

The street stocks, limited stocks, scramble cars, classic cars and an enduro highlight this stock-car program.

Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

CHAMPION RACING OIL

CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA SPRINT CAR SERIES POINTS

Presented by Hoseheads.com

(Wins in parenthesis)

1. Danny Dietrich (11)              1,171

2. Anthony Macri (8)                1,112

3. Freddie Rahmer (7)             1,030

4. Brent Marks (3)                       950

5. Lance Dewease (6)                 814

6. Kyle Larson (10)                      765

7. Dylan Cisney (2)                      519

8. Brock Zearfoss                         492

9. Logan Wagner (1)                     444

10. Brian Montieth (1)                   439